Is it a bird, is it a plane?

As part of the team making sure our collections are correctly labelled and boxed for the move into the Library of Birmingham, I often have to spend long periods of time in our store rooms looking at rows of rather bland boxes. It is a treat when you have to look inside one of them and are reminded of the range of treasures sitting quietly on the rows of shelving.

The archive collection which I am most fond of certainly cheered me up when I came across it during our surveying. Opening a mysterious box containing photographs of a dare-devil woman apparently risking life and limb underneath a hot air balloon intrigued me.

MS 1575/3/6/2/7

After checking the catalogue back in the office I was delighted to find out her name was Kitty King and she that she worked for Lieutenant George Phillip Lempriére. Lempriére (born 26 February 1854) was a balloonist and aeronaut, who performed and exhibited at a wide variety of events including public, private, and scientific engagements at fetes, galas, shows, and lectures.  He travelled throughout England but lived much of his life in Handsworth, so it is fitting that many of the images are of the local area.

MS 1575/3/6/2/7

The collection contains a marvellous variety of material including business records, advertising, diaries, aerial photographs taken during balloon trips and even records of Lempriére’s attempts to become the councillor for Soho ward in 1897. However, it remains the startling images of the flights themselves which most captured my attention.

MS 1575/3/6/2/7

A vivid account taken from Handsworth Magazine (April 1898) the of Lempriere’s flight from Handsworth Victoria Park on the official opening of the extension to the park can be read here.

If you would like to see more images and information relating to Lempriére including many items from this collection please visit Digital Handsworth. A full catalogue of the Lempriére holdings at Birmingham Archives and Heritage can also be found in our searchroom.

Kathryn Hall.


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